VEGETARIAN BLACK BEAN CHILI

Sometimes what you need is a turkey antidote.

Don’t get me wrong, I like turkey just fine—I plan on eating quite a bit of it myself, and I love the traditional trappings it comes with, the dressing, the cranberry sauce, the green beans.  I love standing in a pool of light from the fridge, pulling apart breast meat with my fingers, slapping it onto bread slathered with mayo and layering it with a few spears of Jill’s pickled okra for the best midnight sandwich ever.  I even like making turkey soup, simmering the carcass with carrots, tossing in some barley and kale, sopping up bowlfuls with hunks of sourdough.

But at some point, we all tire of the turkey.  Don’t we?  And it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.  AND WE JUST WISH IT WOULD GO AWAY.  Because we’d like to eat something completely different (but still tasty and homey and wintry) now.

Enter this chili.  If you’re planning to host or be hosted this holiday, if you need to feed a passel of people on the cheap (and before you can bust out the turkey, or after you’re exhausted its ability to feed you), I recommend this recipe.  Toss it in the slow cooker, preferably a few days ahead of when you plan on serving it, and set it out with cheddar, sour cream, chips, & cornbread.  The best part?  If you get tired of it, you can throw it in the freezer for later.

VEGETARIAN BLACK BEAN CHILI

a former coworker brought this in for lunch one day & I fell in love.  adapted slightly from the recipe he kindly provided

2 medium eggplants, sliced into thick rounds

3 zucchini, sliced into thick rounds

2 portobello mushroom caps, stems removed

2 green bell peppers, seeded & halved

2 onions, diced

4-6 cloves garlic, minced

1 28-oz. can diced, fire-roasted tomatoes

2 14-oz. cans black beans, drained

2-3 cups vegetable broth, depending on how thick or thin you prefer

½ cup chopped cilantro

2 ½ T chili powder

2 T ground cumin

balsamic vinegar

olive oil

salt & pepper to taste

optional: ¼ – ½ tsp. cayenne

Line a baking dish with paper towels, then layer the eggplant on top.  Generously with salt and let the eggplant sit for about an hour.  Rinse & dry the eggplant, then toss it in a bowl with the bell peppers, & mushrooms.  Drizzle in balsamic vinegar, salt, & pepper and toss the vegetables to coat.

Grill the vegetables (or use a grill pan, as I did) to achieve a bit of char.  Cool before  charred a bit on the outside and cooked through, then dice them all.

In a large soup pot, sauté the garlic and onions in olive oil until fragrant.  Add the grilled vegetables, tomatoes, black beans, broth, herbs, & spices.  Salt to taste and cook over low heat for at least 45 minutes or up to a few hours.

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DIWALI 2010

So we had ourselves a little party.

Okay, to be fair, it wasn’t exactly “little”—this was actually the largest group of people I’ve ever cooked for in my life!—but it was a party, a plenty-of-food, generously-poured-drink, introductions-and-good-conversation, joy-and-warm-feeling kind of gathering filled with people from all corners of our life.

And these people?  These people are amazing.

They came over after work on Monday to help tape the living room for the somewhat insane project of painting it red by Saturday.  They came over after work on Thursday to string lights, on Friday to help move tables and chairs and lift things, they came early on Saturday to chop and stack and clean and set up and arrange.

My friend Leslie designed our beautiful invitations, Courtney the darling food labels I want to keep forever, and Rebecca and Megan the gorgeous table décor that made me feel like our party belonged in a magazine.  Sonya, as you can see, took a lot of stunning pictures.

I served, among many other things: Vadouvan Spiced Cashews, Grilled Halloumi, Lamb Koftas, & Cardamom Shortbread Cookies.

I felt like a very lucky woman indeed to be surrounded by so many people I love, to watch them interact with each other, enjoy food that I made, light sparklers, laugh, and help me honor my father’s memory .  To eat, drink, and relish a good night in good company, to celebrate for no reason and every reason—that’s why we gathered for Diwali, and that’s why we toasted L’Chaim, to life.

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STIR-FRIED SWEET POTATOES WITH SAGE

You know what’s so excellent?  The fact that Thanksgiving is two weeks from today.


In my world, Thanksgiving means: conjuring strange foods we eat only once a year, leaving the house to buy the one item I forgot despite multiple grocery store visits, unbuttoning my pants ’cause I ate too much, then sitting comatose on the couch watching football, spending the day with my mama and Jill, carving and brining and folding and napping and catching up and drinking wine and really blissful sleep.  A holiday left blessedly uncommercialized, all about food and family.  What’s not to love?

If you have some flexibility with your holiday menu, and/or you’re still holding auditions for possible new items, allow me to urge you to consider these sweet potatoes.  A far cry from the traditional teeth-achingly candied treatment sweet potatoes normally get, this side dish pairs them with brown butter and sage, leading to a sophisticated flavor that I think would work perfectly on a Thanksgiving table (especially if you use sage in your stuffing.)

Here are a few other blog favorites that might fit well on your Thanksgiving table:

caramelized onion tart
poached pears with pomegranate
apple tart
stuffed mushrooms

Mmmm sweet Turkey Day, come quickly.  I am ready for you.

STIR-FRIED SWEET POTATOES WITH SAGE

barely adapted from Mark Bittman

4 T olive oil
2-3 lb sweet potatoes, peeled and grated, about 4-6 cups
5 T butter
4 cloves garlic, crushed with the back of a heavy knife
generous handful of fresh sage leaves
Salt and pepper

Heat olive oil in a very large skillet over medium heat.  When shimmery, add sweet potatoes and season with a bit of salt & pepper.  Cook, stirring rarely, until the sweet potatoes begin to brown.  Stir more frequently until the potatoes are tender but not mushy.  Be patient!  This will take a while (15-20 minutes)

In the meantime, heat the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and sage; shake pan occasionally. When the butter browns, turn off heat.

Carefully remove the sage & garlic from the butter, saving the former and discarding the latter.  Once the potatoes are ready, drizzle them with the butter and garnish with sage leaves.

CARDAMOM SHORTBREAD COOKIES

Hey, did you know?  Today’s Diwali.

The Hindu Festival of Lights is also celebrated by Sikhs & Jains, not to mention plenty of other Indian folks of various persuasions, and is my most-est favorite day of the year.  As a kid, Diwali meant new clothes (it also marks the Hindu New Year), all of my favorite Indian foods, bright colors and smells, a house decorated with fresh flowers and fruits, and staying up late at our friends’ big party, lighting sparklers and fireworks in the backyard.

As an adult, Diwali has taken on so many additional layers of meaning that I’m not sure I can pull them all apart.  Most obvious—it’s important to me to maintain the rituals of my childhood, to enact the practices passed down by my parents, to connect to something much bigger and more powerful than I could create on my own.  Thousands of years of religion and culture, the place my family is from, the things we do because that’s what we do; I want to honor that.

At the same time, ritual for ritual’s sake has its limits.  It’s just as important to me to feel or create ownership over the things I do, to know why I do them and to do them with intention.  I’m blessed that my parents encouraged this when I was young, answering my questions about our religion, my heritage, and leaving plenty of room to put our nuclear family’s spin on tradition.

In that vein, the holiday has taken on a life of its own in my adulthood, in the family I share with Jill, and in our circle of wonderful friends.  Today I am cleaning, cooking, thinking of my parents, threading fresh garlands for our home altar, singing the hymns I learned from my mother, lighting incense and willing my being to honor joy and express the profound gratitude I feel for the richness of life.  Tomorrow night we’ll throw the fifth annual Carroll/Mehra Diwali party, our backyard swelling with people and food.

The story of Diwali is centered around a homecoming, that of the god Rama, who was in exile for many years, searching for his abducted wife and fighting against the forces of evil.  According to our mythology, the night he returned, the villagers of Ayodhya lit his pathway with little oil lamps, now symbols of a holiday that celebrates the triumph of good over evil, the victory of light over dark.

On this holiday, I offer you this Indian-inspired (but distinctly Texan!) cookie, and I thank you who are reading this for being a light in my life.  Happy Diwali!

CARDAMOM SHORTBREAD COOKIES

1 1/3 cup flour

¾ cup very-high-quality butter, at room temperature

½ cup sugar

1 T ground cardamom

½ tsp. vanilla

½ tsp. coarse Kosher salt (¼ tsp. if you substitute table salt)

optional: an egg + sanding or regular sugar for decorating

Using the paddle attachment of an electric mixer, beat the butter & sugar together until blended.  Mix in the vanilla, cardamom, & salt.  Add the flour in a few additions, stirring until a soft dough just comes together.

Gather the dough into a large disk, wrap in plastic, & refrigerate for at least an hour.  When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 325˚.

Allow the dough to soften a bit before rolling it out to ¼” thickness.  Cut out any shape your heart desires, placing the cut-out cookies on parchment-lined baking sheets.

(Optional: before baking, brush the cookies with a bit of egg wash (1 egg beaten & thinned with some water), then sprinkle with sugar.)

Bake cookies 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown.  Transfer to racks and cool 10 minutes before eating warm (with tea!) or cool completely to store in an airtight container.

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